Yesterday, we finally went to see ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ with a dear friend. Among other things, as we entered the theater, she remarked how much she loved my book, ‘Not For You’ and in the same breath - how shocked she was that I literally gave away NFY1&2 that morning.
How could I give it away?!
Believe me, I have asked myself that long before yesterday.
During and after the movie, I reflected on many things – perception, truth-and-lies, family secrets, the power of media, gossip, ‘representation’, being an unknown/person of color, an ‘immigrant’, a woman-writer-of-color, the challenges of ‘breaking in’, opulence vs. what it means to be rich, family expectations, weddings, love, what it means to make a mark, how legacies happen, and how we are ALL aiming for approval, community, and deeper relationships: family, society or at a much larger scale. How people are the first in line to cheer someone on for free stuff – without investing anything more in it.
To quote a character: no one likes free stuff more than rich people. It made me laugh: wealth is truly relative.
I wondered: the narrative is shaped as much by the narrator, as it is by the players – but who ‘really’ gets to tell your story?
In the light of criticism and critique for the movie itself, I also wondered: what would happen if someone made ‘Not For You’ into a movie or one of those made-for-Netflix drama’s? Would people appreciate it the same way? Would it be a ‘box-office-bomber’? It is about ordinary people, middle-classes, or being unemployed, without any of the Bollywood glamors. There is no celebrity sighting, no first-class suites, no lavish rooftop parties, no million-dollar earrings, or a 40-million-dollar wedding with the water-in-the-isle-with-a-mermaid-like-bride.
In fact, Ana and Ravi’s wedding is the polar opposite of everything Bollywood presents to the world. Everything that could go wrong, does. NFY includes narratives of theft, hospitals, wars, struggles, mental health, attempted suicide, riots, depression, abandonment, and more.
Are these scenarios believable?
Or is everyone caught up in applauding and consuming escapist fantasies because the real life is too damn boring or sad?
My husband Uma (who oversees the finances of my work) and I jointly agreed to give NFY away, the day I found out that a long-time backer, Rev. Vera Bourne had passed away, of age and health complications. She lived in Lismore, Australia. I had never met her, but her passing made me sad. She had supported my work, applied her professional training as a pastor and age-earned wisdom, to tell me ‘it will be ok’, that I’m doing fine. It was the same day I heard that another backer and alumni faculty member of our University, Nana Kirk passed away from a rare form of cancer, at a young age. Nana lived in California, and we had never met. Nana too was very supportive, very kind, and creative. Both were accepting of everyone, of all forms of humanity, of all forms of people, extending their love towards others through their work and their words. So, when we decided to give the book away, we were partly doing it for Rev. Vera, partly for Nana.
‘Not For You’ cost me many things: 46 years to live, two years of my life to write, a variety of physical and emotional pain, but also the burden of telling the stories of those who lived around me, and before me. This was a financially, emotionally and physically expensive book.
It was meant to be a book about the relationship between comfort food and people. I also met some great people, had a few wonderful opportunities, and have created something for my own family. But it became so much more.
The public persona never speaks the complete truth of people they nurse sorrows and disappointments alone, are made up of layers that others have never seen, and exist out of the sheer tenacity to make it past that day, that situation, the forced and often unavoidable stuff of Life.
Sharing a complicated story about a seemingly ordinary life meant telling the truth about our share of trauma, biases, judgment, sexism, oppression, discrimination, quiet losses, 'making do' because there is no other choice; heart breaks; or how one lets things/people/relationships go - because one is exhausted of being invisible. Compromising through every important life decision – sometimes because one has no choice, sometimes because one cares more about preserving something more precious: the most basic, fundamental relationship - a friendship, a bond, a connection, that will persist.
After shipping books to the Kickstarter community that had pledged towards it, I have given away nearly all of the books.
No one can believe it. Neither can I.
As I wrote the manuscript many deeper truths emerged: biases are evil & everywhere, nothing is ordinary, everything has a path, love transcends titles, and Karma has the last word, always.
My 'promise-ring' from Uma a $35 purchase from a J C Penny, one I picked out myself, because Uma didn't know what I wanted and he could not afford more then. I still have it. We are not rich (especially not after the theft earlier this year), but I started my weekend by giving away books to people who share a love, commitment, and respect towards passion and creativity.
I am receiving cute 'thank-you' notes and appreciation messages from them, even before the books are shipped. Maybe, that is my wealth, my Karma.